If you ask ten people what the main focus of Chanukah is, nine would probably answer, “lighting the menorah.” While that is certainly an integral part of the chag, the Gemara (Shabbos 21b) tells us, “The next year they established these days as a Yom Tov, l’hodos u’lihalel – to thank and praise.” What an eye opener! There is more to Chanukah than lighting the menyorah, playing dreidel and eating latkes? Yes! These are days established primarily to thank and praise Hashem!
The connection between Chanukah and our series on Shabbos is now clear. Thanking and giving praise to Hashem is a main theme of Shabbos as well. As we have mentioned previously, on Shabbos morning we add a pasuk to the bracha of yotzer ohr: “V’yom hashev’ee mishabeach v’omer mizmor shir l’yom haShabbos, tov lehodos l’Hashem – And the seventh day praises and says: ‘let us sing a song about the day of Shabbos – It is good to praise Hashem!’” Let us understand why giving thanks is an integral part of both Chanukah and Shabbos and how we can fulfill this obligation with joy.
The Darkest Exile
The Torah relates (Bereshis 1:2) that in the beginning of creation “v’choshech al penei tehom – there was darkness on the face of the depths.” The Midrash says that the “darkness” refers to the Greek exile. Why was this exile considered darker than any of the other exiles?
We explained in our first Shabbos article (Revealing Hashem’s Presence, 11-2) that Hashem has placed a darkness in this world in order to hide His existence. However, with a little bit of effort, we can find the Creator by examining the many different wonders of His world. Why is it then that so many people deny His existence? The number one reason is that they allow themselves to be influenced by science, which does not see past a superficial cause-and-effect system. They fail to realize that Hashem is the true cause of all these phenomena. The founders of this belief were none other then the Greeks. Unfortunately, at that time, most of the Jewish nation got caught up in Greek culture and this mistaken outlook did not leave room in their lives for Hashem or Torah, which reveals His Will. By extinguishing the light of Torah, which shows us how to navigate this world, they left themselves “in the dark.” Thus, the precise description of the Greek exile is “darkness.”
The small handful of Chashmonaim knew that a life without Torah was worthless, and they fought against the powerful Greek Empire. Hashem performed miracles for them, and they won battle after battle. Finally they liberated the Bais HaMikdash and purified it. When they discovered enough non-defiled oil for one day of lighting, Hashem performed another miracle and the oil burned for eight days. The darkness in which the Greeks had placed us was now removed and we “saw the light.” Once again we acknowledged Hashem’s dominion over the world and rededicated ourselves to His Torah.
However, this raises a difficult question. What was the need for the miracle of the oil? Couldn’t Hashem have hidden enough oil for eight days in the same way He hid a single flask?
Oil and Wars
Rav Chaim Friedlander zt”l, Mashgiach of the Ponovezh Yeshiva, answers that the miracles of the war would not have been enough to motivate Bnei Yisrael to do teshuvah. There would always be those who believed we won because of our guerrilla tactics and the fact that we knew the terrain better, etc. Therefore, Hashem performed the miracle of the oil – an open miracle that could not be denied. Only then would everyone be compelled to realize that Hashem is the One Who orchestrated all of the wondrous events that led to their victory. In other words, the clear miracles open our eyes so that we can see the non-obvious ones.
My father, Rav Ephraim Niehaus, pointed out that this lesson was also learnt in our time – the hard way. Initially, most people admitted that the Six Day War was won through open miracles, but soon afterwards, many began to pat themselves on the back. The victory was because of our preemptive strike, our superior weaponry and strategy, and so forth. Hashem, therefore, taught us a painful lesson a few years later with the Yom Kippur War. Many warnings were ignored and we were taken totally by surprise; as a result there were many casualties. It then became clear, to those willing to see, that the victory in the first war was only because of Hashem.
And now, with the recent missile onslaught here in Eretz Yisroel, we must also not make the same mistake. Even though our enemies fired over 1000 missiles at us, the amount of injuries and casualties was extremely low! Let us realize that the only explanation is Hashem’s never-ending protection.
Admit and Thank
Let us now return to the theme of lehodos u’lehalel. The word “hodaah – thanking” has two meanings. One is to admit. The first step in being grateful is to realize that we have received something. Human nature is such that we deny having received so that we do not have to give thanks. The second meaning is the next step: Say thank you! Don’t hold your feelings inside of you; express them to your benefactor.
Now we can understand why Chazal established these days to thank and praise Hashem. On Chanukah we were shown, through a series of miracles, that Hashem is the One “running the show.” Thus, we thank and praise Hashem for all of His kindnesses. First, we admit in Al Hanissim that the wars were won only because Hashem fought them for us. Then, in Hallel we go on to thank Hashem for all the kindnesses we receive on a daily basis. This is because we have now learnt to recognize the miracles that are not as obvious. As we say in Modim in Shemoneh Esreh: “v’al nisecha shebichol yom emanu – we thank You for all the miracles that You do for us each day.” For example, in our brain there are many microscopic blood vessels. If even one would be clogged by a tiny blood clot, the result would be a stroke, chas v’sholom. And yet, it rarely happens! We are not aware of the countless kindnesses Hashem is performing for us constantly.
This revelation also occurs every Shabbos. Because we are less occupied with worldly matters, it is easier to see that Hashem is the Creator of the Universe. This is a day when it is “tov lehodos l’Hashem” – to declare that all is from Him and to praise Him at length for all His ongoing kindnesses. This is why we sing special Shabbos songs – for on this day, when we discover more and more of Hashem’s presence in our world, we celebrate and sing.
During the upcoming days of Chanukah, let us fulfill the spirit of the day. We should say Hallel with feeling and joy – not racing to finish as quickly as possible. And with this lesson it will be easier on Shabbos to find opportunities to thank Hashem as well. Whether its during the extra additions to davening or during the Shabbos zemiros, let us learn to sing to Hashem for as long as we live!
About the Author: Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus, raised and educated in Los Angeles and subsequently Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, is the Rosh Kollel of the Zichron Aron Yaakov Kollel in Kiryat Sefer , Israel. He lectures for the public and is the director of the Chasdei Rivka Free Loan Gemach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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